Saturday, 4 October 2008

Zot! The Complete Black-and-White Stories: 1987–1991, by Scott McCloud – reviewed

The modern Superman comes in for quite a bit of criticism for being a bit of a wimpy new man, but the Superman of the 1950s was as much a product of his time, with his gratingly patriarchal attitude.

Zot, on the other hand, is like a Superman out of time, free of the need to appear in twenty comic books a month or to maintain a status quo. He’s happy, comfortable with his powers, accepting of the things he can’t change, determined to change the things he can. He has no hang-ups, but is understanding of the hang-ups of others. He’s everything Superman has the potential to be.

This superb and substantial book contains nearly all of his adventures in black and white (leaving out backup strips and a couple of issues drawn by Chuck Austen – though Scott McCloud’s layouts for those issues are included). The stories are light-hearted, funny and exciting, with a bit of soap opera to keep you going from issue to issue. McCloud’s approach to super-heroics and super-villainy is imaginative and innovative.

If the book has one flaw it’s that the author’s notes, which appear at the end of each story, might have been better collected at the end of the book. They are fascinating, but it feels sometimes as if the author is trying to overdetermine the reader’s response, in particular in his attitude to the later issues, which take place almost entirely on Earth.

He obviously loved those issues (as did a lot of readers), but after reading so many notes about how much better the comic is without the superhero stuff, I found those issues rather underwhelming. I much preferred the bulk of the book, in which the relationship stuff is just one element among many.

The art is astounding from start to finish. McCloud uses a variety of approaches to create various effects, but his main mode is a clear line style similar to that seen in Tintin, with a dash of manga expressionism.

All in all, a joy to read, and a feast for the eyes!

Zot! The Complete Black-and-White Stories: 1987–1991, Scott McCloud, Harper, pb, 384pp.

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